Losing control of your vehicle on an icy winter highway can be frightening. Nearly one quarter of all weather-related vehicle accidents take place on slushy, snowy or icy roads, according to the Federal Highway Administration. That translates into 1,300 people who are killed each year while driving in such conditions, and 117,000 injured.
While there’s no way to guarantee absolute safety on the roads in winter, there is plenty you can do to decrease your chances of being involved in an accident.
Avoid icy roads. Watch the weather forecast. Precipitation, combined with freezing or near-freezing temperatures can put a dangerous glaze on roads and bridges. If possible, don’t drive in such conditions, unless you’re confident the roads have been treated with sand or de-icing agents. Icy roads can get especially dangerous when the sun does down and in the early morning hours. Try to avoid night driving when there’s ice and snow on the roadways.
Slow down. If you must drive in icy conditions, the number-one rule is to slow down. At speeds of 45 mph or more, it’s almost impossible for any driver, no matter how experienced or skilled, to react quickly enough to correct sliding out or fishtailing in time to stop an accident. Black ice conditions have been known to spin vehicles off the road at speeds of 10 mph or less. Leave plenty of room between you and the driver in front of you. Common locations to find black ice include bridges, overpasses and spots that are shaded during the day.
Don’t slam on the brakes. Even with the advanced braking systems in today’s vehicles, slamming on the brakes is never a good idea. If at all possible, gradually letting off the accelerator and pumping your brakes is a safer approach. Don’t tailgate other vehicles. Have anti-lock brakes? Anti-lock brakes are one of the most important safety systems on your vehicle. But they don’t guarantee safety on icy roads. Get educated about how they work most effectively.
Stay calm. That’s always easier said than done in emergencies where seconds count. But panicking and over-correcting, or turning the steering wheel against the slide, can send the car into an out-of-control spin.